on saying yes

I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of saying no. Of creating boundaries in your life, and respecting them. Of refusing to run yourself ragged trying to be everything and do everything and please everyone around you. Of saying no to what is not important, so you can make room for what is important.

And this is all very true, and {as a natural people-pleaser} something I continue to work on in my life.

But I was thinking this morning about how saying no is just one side of the coin–how, if we want to create happy and fulfilling lives, it is important to be aware of saying yes, too. Saying yes intentionally. Saying yes thoughtfully. Saying yes joyfully and lovingly.

Saying yes to things that fill us up… and saying yes to things that fill others up, too.

I was thinking this morning about our upcoming wedding, and how loved it makes me feel that the people in our lives are celebrating joyfully with us. All the people who took the time to send us congratulations cards {displayed on our bookshelf; they make me smile every day!} How Dana and her mom made a special effort to take me out to lunch to celebrate. How much it means to me that Allyn’s mom and sister are throwing me a bridal shower up here in the Bay. I mean, everyone is busy enough with their own lives. Everyone surely had reason to say no, to refrain from adding one more task or commitment to their lives, to focus instead on the hundreds of other things going on around them. No one had to do any of this for me and Allyn.

But do you know what? It matters. It matters so much to me.

When I look back on this period of my life in ten years, I am sure there are many details I am not going to remember. But I am going to remember the cards people sent, the lunch with Dana and Lynn, the bridal shower that Barbara and Allyson are throwing for me. These memories are gifts that I am going to take with me the rest of my life.

The funny thing is, especially with sending cards or letters, that sometimes we don’t even remember sending them, weeks or months or years later. But you never know what will be priceless to the recipient. What words will come at just the right moment. My Gramps has kept a condolence letter from John Wooden in his briefcase for the 24 years since my grandmother passed away, and he still takes it out and reads it all the time. Those words on that folded piece of note paper have brought him comfort for decades. It is likely that Coach Wooden did not even remember sending that letter, but it has meant the world to my Gramps. I feel the same way about cards and Facebook messages I got from friends and acquaintances after Celine died. Lines from those messages have become touchstones for me, memorized and recited in my head when I am feeling lonely or sad or discouraged.

I guess what I’m saying is, when it comes to saying yes, it is always worth it to take the ten minutes out of your busy day to send a card or email or Facebook message. Even if you haven’t talked to the person in years. Even if you’re not sure what to say. Make the effort. Say something. Reach out. Because it matters.

Being thoughtful matters. Taking time for other people matters.

It mattered that my parents came to every one of my track meets and basketball games and school plays when I was growing up. I can vividly remember the comfort and calm I would feel when I looked up in the bleachers and saw their smiles. It mattered. Every single one of those days mattered. It would have been easy for them to say no. It would have been easy for them to be too busy with work. They certainly both had many other things on their to-do lists. But they said yes. Again and again, they said yes. They came. And that feeling of comfort and calm and support has stayed with me, all these years later. It mattered then, and it continues to matter now.

My parents said yes to big things, too. Always without resentment, without martyrdom. They said yes and meant it. My mom was President of our Youth Track club for many years, organizing volunteers and running track meets for hundreds of kids {and this was back in the days of dirt tracks and manual timers clocked by humans, not computers} and all this on top of her full-time job. As a young girl, I got to see my mother as a leader in public. She was a woman in charge, running things, making decisions and finding solutions. She was an example for me that you can be kind, yet also strong at the same time. This mattered.

When I was in second grade, my dad came to every single performance of my school play, even though it meant missing covering the NBA finals for his job as a sports columnist. Many people would have made the opposite decision; but to my dad, he was saying yes to what was most important. His actions were his message, loud and clear: my family is more important to me than anything, even my work. It mattered to me then, and as the years pass it matters to me more and more, because I realize how easy it would have been for him to say no. How easy it would have been for him to be too busy to come to a single performance, much less every single performance. The same is true for when my dad surprised me and drove up to San Jose for my Steinbeck Fellows reading, just to turn around and drive right back home that same night {to take care of our family dog Murray.} There were dozens of reasons for my dad to say no to making that 10-hour trip. There were dozens of reasons why it was a hassle, why he didn’t have time, why he had too much else going on. But he said yes anyway. And it mattered. Boy, did it matter. That memory of him walking into the room is one I will treasure for my entire life.

From personal experience, many of my sweetest and most satisfying memories are those times when I said yes even though it would have been easy to say no. That time my friend Janet and I flew across the country for a weekend to surprise our friend Lauren for her birthday. When I took time off work to travel to my brother’s Girl Effect panel and spend time with him in the final days of his MBA program. Planning a bridal shower for my cousin Amanda from halfway across the country in the midst of writing my graduate thesis. Dog-sitting for my parents for two weeks so they could take the trip of a lifetime to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary. Throwing a surprise birthday party for my sweetheart in a San Francisco restaurant. Making a few hours’ detour on a road trip to see my friends Xun and Hai while they were in town. Making the effort to go the book signing, attend the baby shower, throw the party, drive the extra distance… it has mattered, every time. I have been grateful that I said yes, every time.

Which is all to say that we should strive for balance. Saying no is important, of course. I am still working on strengthening my “no” muscle. And it is always better to say “no” than to say “yes” with strings of resentment or bitterness attached.

But I think, just as it is important to say no with intention, it is also important to say yes with intention. Whether I am saying no or yes, I do not want to say either out of selfishness. I do not want to hoard all my time for myself, nor do I want to give all my time away to others. I want to say both no and yes out of my innermost generosity: a generosity towards myself, recognizing that I can only be my best self when I have time and space to breathe and recharge; and a generosity towards others, purposefully going out of my way and choosing to take on more responsibility and effort for those who matter to me. Because they are worth it. Because the memories are worth it. Because acting out of love is what makes life so worth living.

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